Three fabulous days
Three Fabulous Days
We left Killybegs in cold fog and didn’t envy the cruise liner visitors their day out at all. Killybegs had been good to us and we will remember it warmly.
We passed Slieve League the magnificent 659 metre cliff face, famous throughout the world, but to us veiled in impenetrable white and moved on to the narrow pass between Malin Beg on the mainland and Rathlin O’Birne Island and I followed the waypoints set by Rob to get us through the short passage and into a nice distance of open sea to Arranmore island, our next stop as we move up to the top of Ireland.
So, we had a nice 9.8 knot wind a little more than 120° off the port bow, visibility was improving, the sea and swell were ok, so what do you think this is all leading up to? I looked at Rob and he looked at me and half an hour later the Diva was well and truly back in business, swaying gently with the swell while holding Zoonie nice and stable. Veteran of the world’s oceans with thousands of miles and many performances under her belt? Yes, the Diva was back on deck, her first performance since Falmouth to the Scillies. She took us beautifully toward the NW point of Ireland and was a joy to behold.
On top of that we passed a flock of ten puffin and numerous flocks of fulmars.
We sent Diva offstage as we passed around the top of Arranmore and motored south of Calf Island, moving in to the mooring field on a transit with the whiteish obelisk on the beach head in line with the highest peak. We secured to a visitors’ buoy off the village of Leabgarrow and looked forward to a Sunday ashore. End of Fab day one.
In this anchorage, on January 7 1839 during a furious westerly gale that reached hurricane strength and today is referred to as ‘the Night of the Big Wind’ the 164-ton Andrew Nugent, carrying butter to London, broke away from her anchor and was carried by the wind across the channel to Duck Island where she wrecked with total loss of the fourteen men on board, despite the brave efforts of the pilot Tom O’Donnell and Captain Crangle. The captain’s body was washed up on Rutland Beach a while later.
Fabulous day two
We could hardly believe our eyes when we awoke to blue skies and the promise of a sunny day, after all the cloud and fog, and the happy coincidence that we had planned a walk around the south east corner of the island.
We ventured ashore in our leaky little dinghy just before eleven and started absorbing the delights of this lovely place. It is a popular holiday destination these days with lots of holiday cottages, new and restored originals and the lighthouse keepers’ dwellings are now two three-bedroomed homes, hotels and guest houses, a little harbour and a fine sandy beach, plus well marked walks, playgrounds, picnic areas and water sports and a bar and café plus, would you believe, a night club. They certainly know how to look after families here.
On the slip is an extensive five-year restoration project being undertaken by the daughter of the fisherman who owned the fine fishing smack. The lady intends to make her father’s working boat into a liveaboard home for herself.
We climbed a steep hill out of the village along the road, and walking down the other side after a few more paces we could hear the priest preaching during the mass at St Crone’s Church way down by the beach, it was being transmitted to the entire valley and I wondered if that was for locals maybe who could not leave their homes.
Amongst the numerous homes are old cottages in all states of disrepair. I explored one, drawn down the track by a pyramid of possessions, partly burned and sporting some healthy, and a metal clad wooden chest, lid open and full with crockery. The torn label inside the lid revealed one owner was a member of the academic world ‘Dept of.…..missing section……Studies’.
In the chest and pile of possessions was the history of a family, like an avocado, the history set in the ‘stone’ surrounded by the decaying paraphernalia, the flesh of life. Just the tumbling buildings and accoutrements could, with an imaginative mind, be made into a family saga, telling the overwhelming story of famine, emigration, survival and the rich culture born of struggle. Someone from this family is still around. Someone set fire to the personal pile no longer needed by its owners. Somebody brought in the heap of new building blocks that looks as if there are contemporary plans for the place. What will be here in five years’ time I wonder?
There is so little top soil on the granite base on the island that in the past sand from the beaches and clay was used to enable burials to be carried out on the rocky promontory between the Chapel Strand beaches. Grass grows there now to secure their resting places. In 1641 in a rocky cave on the headland shown, Cromwellian soldiers massacred 67 women and children, it is not easily accessible, which is somehow appropriate.
The walk around the strand at Cloghcor Point was a real treat. Clean beaches, lots of smooth rocks and rockpools, lovely views across to islands and the mainland and in the distance the Derryveagh Mountains the most prominent being the pyramid shaped Errigal Mountain which looks snow covered in the sun. No less beautiful than many of the beaches we have seen before.
Children were swinging on swings in their garden with the most beautiful views to look at and two girls were riding their bikes having a great time in the sunshine. All was right in this part of the world just then.
Circling back towards Leabgarrow Strand and prominent on the esplanade is the brand-new white canopy and we sat with four others beneath it in the shade to watch a virtual reality show in three parts. First was the mimed anguish of a mother seeing off her daughter to the New World, never to see her again. A seated women is covered in a pastel-coloured blanket and gradually pulls it from her head into her lap with grasping, slow but desperate hand movements. Secondly, a young woman has returned from a dark past in North America and dances around a chapel at the head of a glen, wondering what her future would hold, would it be safer and kinder than her past?
Finally, a young contemporary woman sings to her psychologist about the dream she keeps having about her past culture which she has chosen to leave behind, but it will not leave her.
By this time, our water bottles not just empty but dry like our throats, it was time to enjoy a drink or four at Phil Bán’s bar. Soon after we arrived in this modest little place and took a seat in the rear of two bars with amazing views from its two big windows three clever elderly men came in wearing matching short-sleeved emerald green shirts and gave us all, over an hour of beautiful Irish folk songs.
They were joined then by three more, this time off the ferry, a lady stonemason playing her mandolin, a brilliant fiddle player and a lady on guitar and tin whistle with a lovely voice. A young lad on the accordion is the eldest son of Dennis a wine merchant from Glasgow who filled us in on the local news and history. As a boy Dennis accidentally unearthed a skull from one of the burials on the rocky headland I was telling you about.
One of the locals was celebrating his birthday and we were included among his birthday cake recipients; how fortunate we were.
When all seven were playing I had the sense of being absorbed by the rich sounds, tapping my feet, clapping and joining in when I could, and it was lovely. Rob managed to sell two of my books, one to Dennis and the other to the arts event organiser, great job Rob.
So, to summarise, we walked for three hours and spent half an hour at the reality show and then six hours in the Bar, not bad for a day out. The dinghy was virtually at the same level it had been when we left it! Tide in and out again. We were planning for a 5.00am start the next morning, would we make it?
Fabulous day three
Well nearly. We let go the mooring at 5.20am and spent the next nine hours being chased along the north coast of Ireland by a rising force six. Zoonie loved it, under full white sails with the occasional push from the Atlantic swell, and we know how she likes a bit of surfing don’t we. It was such a pleasure having a good wind behind her beam and running offshore and not directly onto the rocky shore.
The mountains looked dark and moody to the south with a band of low cloud disguising their peaks and two yachts passed the other way, seeking shelter from where we had come. We passed the evocatively named ‘Bloody Foreland’ but as it was morning the sun was in the wrong position to shine on the rock surface and make it look bloody.
As we arrived at the mouth of Lough Swilly the wind started to increase to 22 knots (force six measures 22 to 27 knots) and out from the bay behind the lighthouse came The Lady of Avenel, a 102-foot brigantine enjoying a cruise around the shores here and in southern Scotland, setting her sails as she moved out from under the cliffs to catch the growing wind. What a grand site. Also, and offshore was a tan sailed junk rigged schooner having a great sail but too far away for a photograph.
The wind was funnelling down the estuary towards us at 27 knots by this time and we had a few miles to go to the shelter of a bay on the west side which would give us protection from the strong south westerly, so we were relieved to turn into the north end of Ballymastocker Bay and pick up the remaining visitor’s buoy.
So here we are after three great days, all ready for the next adventures when we motor further up the estuary to Rathmullan Roads, north of the pier and in 3 – 5 metres over sand. From there Northern Ireland and Derry await us!
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